With an alarming medical diagnosis that included soaring cholesterol levels, Alejandro Asprella finally decided to act. Here he shares his powerfully simple story, straight from the heart, and lets us in on the emotions that often accompany difficult but meaningful change.
“Nothing human is alien to us,” so says the famous quote by the ancient Roman playwright Terence. And at 57 years of age, I was living proof of this because I turned over a new leaf.
At only 40 years of age, and already 55 pounds overweight, I learned that I was suffering from hypertension, or high blood pressure, with sky-high cholesterol numbers, especially the bad kind — low density lipoproteins (LDLs).
For years, I understood the medical report from my cardiologist, and yet could not change my sedentary habits, lose weight (except for short, intermittent periods), nor change what and how I ate and drank. The slogan “just do it” tortured me — just thinking that all I needed to do was to set my mind on changing my situation only added to the guilt I felt at failed attempts to do just that.
And so the years went by and the damage added up. If I could send a single message to those who feel that they can’t make a change, it would be this: When we take a step back and reflect, we can usually see the challenges of being human, which makes us sometimes unable to face up to what we know we really need.
Sometimes, unexpectedly or incomprehensibly, our subconscious has its own way of influencing our lives and decisions, either helping or hindering us. Seeing things this way helps us understand that forging a change and a new path to health is more complex than simply saying “just do it” or “all you need is willpower.”
And yet, change is not impossible if we are able to adjust our focus. One day, while experiencing worrying symptoms, I felt that I had to do something. Fifteen years had already passed since my diagnosis.
At first, I pushed myself to do a light jog for 15-20 minutes early every morning. To overcome the burden, boredom, and resistance, I would put the news on my TV while I ran to make the effort seem like less of an uphill battle. I noticed that just doing this for a few days, and without even adjusting my nutritional habits, I began to lose a bit of weight. Seeing such modest progress each week motivated me to keep going.
One morning, while waiting for someone outside, I decided to trot along the sidewalk, stimulated by the fresh air. After a couple of days, I felt up to jogging to the nearby park where I came upon other early morning walkers and joggers. Suddenly, I felt like I was not so alone, that I had company. And I simply wanted to keep going.
Maintaining this level of effort for a while, I started to build up more physical strength, eventually taking part in a short run in the city center that I really enjoyed.
Gradually, going from strength to strength, I began to want to improve. I didn’t just want to lose weight, no, I also wanted to change how much and what I was eating. Now, I had a more clearly defined objective and an overall desire to be more physically fit, and to take part in more races.
I found that I needed a trainer and an organized approach, so I joined a local running group.
Some years passed during which I took these gradual steps. The effort now was not huge — it was accompanied by strong dreams and hopes. And there was no illusion or grand objective, just the simple wish to be able to keep making progress, week after week, as the basis for my continued activity. Grand objectives don’t help people for whom the idea of going the distance already seems impossible.
Willing to let myself be surprised by unsought possibilities that kept coming up, I soldiered on and, almost without realizing or planning it, I found myself at 62 years of age participating in my first marathon — in New York no less! The city’s marathon covers each of its five boroughs: Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan. The special atmosphere and euphoria of the New York Marathon makes it one of the most popular, with one of the highest participation rates in the world.
Since I started running, I have also added trail running, cycling, and some triathlons to my menu of physical activity. In fact, the actual activities are not so critical — what’s important is realizing that every decision to improve our lives takes one first effort, and subsequent efforts fuel our resolve and energy when we begin to see even small improvements.
This perspective lightens the weight of the effort and frees us to see new possibilities. Changes in our metabolism and mood (through our body’s secretion of serotonin and dopamine) serve as further impetus to keep going.
We each have our own drivers for change, whether it’s to feel better about ourselves, improve self-confidence, improve our health, embark on self-discovery, or to be stronger in the face of adversity. Furthermore, exercising outdoors helps us take in fresh air and meet new people. Indeed, taking up physical activity to improve our health and our lives paves the way for life’s pleasant surprises, proving that uplifting and transformative experiences can still be ours at any age.